Propagandist, but not tacky

Bal Thackeray movie

There is a scene in Abhijit Phanse’s Thackeray, in which the leader is a pall-bearer of one of his followers killed in a violent agitation. This simple act of solidarity with the rank and file explains a lot about what turned a cartoonist and journalist into one of the most controversial leaders of Maharashtra.

The slim, bespectacled Bal Thackeray (played almost perfectly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who quit his job with a newspaper when asked to tone down his political cartoons, notes (an animated sequence illustrates this) that Maharashtrians are discriminated against in their native land by “outsiders.”  His Marathi Manoos plank became his springboard for forming the Shiv Sena and becoming a loud, vocal and often violent upholder of the Marathi and Hindu cause.

The biopic has been produced by a Shiv Sainik, so it is only to be expected that the film will not have even a smidgen of criticism of Thackeray’s methods or incendiary utterings. It opens with his arrival in court to testify in a trial after the demolition of the Babri Masjid; the story of his rise is then told in black-and-white flashbacks—cutting to the present to allow him to verbally slash at the sneering prosecutor.

The script has picked incidents from his political career that show him in the best light; he was always a great orator with the right quip at the ready—whether it was something as minor as having Dada Kondke’s Marathi film get its place in a theatre showing the Hindi Tere Mere Sapne, or major political milestones in his political journey—limited though it was to Maharashtra.

The film does not attempt to whitewash his politics or canonise Thackeray; in fact his methods of using violence and unleashing his men to deal with any obstacle—a hostile political rival, the campaign to reserve jobs for locals, or the digging up of a cricket pitch to prevent matches with Pakistan—are shown with a tinge of admiration. Thackeray is shown to fearlessly say it like it is, make brazenly rabble-rousing speeches, and go against the hypocritical image of a leader as saint, by smoking and drinking openly.  His personal life is limited to a few scenes when his wife Meena (Amrita Rao), who is mostly seen hovering in the background, with serving trays.

Unlike a few other recent biopics, Thackeray is very well-made with meticulous period details and casting so correct that the characters can easily be identified. It can be called propagandist, but at least it cannot be accused of being tacky. There is a distinct possibility of a sequel, because a “To be continued”  appears at the end.

 

Thackeray

Directed by Abhjit Panse and others

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao and others

Rating: Three stars

By Deepa Gahlot

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